Is Double Optin Hurting Your Email List?

In response to my email last week that showed how double optin does NOT a better list make, subscriber Ian Brodie replies:

Hey Josh – good email 🙂

There’s another reason the engagement stats look higher for double opted in emails, it’s to do with the samples used.

If you look at the way mailchimp, for example, show the stats to say double optin accounts get higher open rates and clicks, they compare all the accounts on mailchimp that are double optin with all the accounts that are single optin. Of course, they’re not comparing like with like.

In particular, smart marketers with big lists who email their list a lot (and hence are going to get lower open/clicks per email) are going to use single optin. Mom and pop stores with small lists they probably know personally are going to follow Mailchimp’s guidelines and do double optin. Hardly surprising that the double optins beat the single optins on the stats.

But what they don’t do is show a paired comparison between lists of the same size, same sector, same mail frequency. Or a proper split test where you randomly allocate to double or single optin on signup (I’ve seen one of those tests done and the engagement was no different)

Ian’s exactly right.

The email companies push the double optin line HARD, and the only people who think to challenge the dogma are the savviest players who know how valuable each and every subscriber is.

They’re playing an entirely different game than your typical antique clothing store or aspiring life coach.

I followed up with Ian to see if he had any links to the split tests he mentioned, and he sent me this by a marketer named Jarom:

It’s a great experiment. Jarom sent equal traffic to two different signup pages—one that led to a single optin list, and one that required the extra double optin step.


The double optin list was 25% smaller, and the open rates, click rates AND sales were slightly higher on the single optin list.

Jarom concluded that the responsiveness of your list is determined by WHAT you say, not how many hoops you force your subscribers to jump through.

And with that I couldn’t agree more.

Lilia Tovbin - March 4, 2016

Thanks for tackling this topic/question, a good one. I agree with the overall premise that single opt-in is sufficient, probably in 90%+ of cases, but I think the analysis was a bit simplified and one experiment is not enough of a proof for every business/list owner considering the issue.

I think double opt-in has its place. It all depends on the audience you are trying to reach since response rate can vary greatly and email usage (monetized Vs. content digest/update) varies as well. If you are trying to reach entrepreneurs and up-sell them it’s a good case for single opt-in. But imagine you are trying to reach teachers/students who use their school addresses (schools have heavy filters in place + high turnover) with very modest ROI – any emails that land in the SPAM folders are the ones you might not want on your list since it cost you money to send emails, especially if the list is large and you send a lot of content updates.

Very often, the answer to major business questions starts with “it depends”.

    Josh Earl - March 4, 2016

    Great comment, Lilia! I appreciate you chiming in here.

    Your school example is actually a great example of why I’m such a strong proponent of single optin. In a previous life I worked at two different universities, and we had to deal with aggressive spam filters like you said.
    With double optin, you’re staking the entire future relationship with that subscriber on your double optin email getting through their spam filter. And if your per subscriber ROI is lower, that makes it even more critical to not lose subscribers needlessly.

    The two biggest problems with single optin are 1. collecting a bunch of “dead” email addresses that jack up your monthly bill and 2. potentially lower deliverability due to sending to bad addresses.

    To deal with the problem of dead addresses, you can either purge your list every 6 months or so or choose to send most of your emails to your active subscribers, and email the inactive subscribers less frequently.

    The best solution to the deliverability problem is the one that Infusionsoft uses.

    Infusionsoft has two tiers of email servers: lower trust single optin servers, and higher trust double optin servers.

    Subscribers start out getting email from the single optin servers. Then you can send out links to content, like downloads or blog posts, and when people click they are silently double opted in. That’s because Infusionsoft knows that the address is good and that the subscriber wants to receive emails from you, so they automatically move the subscriber to the servers with higher deliverability.

    Most ESPs don’t want to be bothered building a sophisticated system like this, so they evangelize double optin.

    MailChimp could let you have your cake and eat it too, but they’ve chose to let their customers pay the price instead.

    Josh Earl
    *Email Copywriter*

    Skype: josh_earl

      Lilia Tovbin - March 4, 2016

      Right, I was saying you could collect the data, but use it creatively and not just ignore anyone who didn’t verify email. And yes, I agree on needing to purge emails on recurring basis to prevent list decay.

      Love the Infusionsoft example – very customer friendly! Adding to the top of my feature wish list for

Gonzalo Arzuaga - July 15, 2016

Guess what I’m gonna be doing today? lol
That takes me to Idea #1: put together an “Email Courses 101” ebook compiling, organizing, polishing and strategizing your top 30 or so posts.

    Josh Earl - July 15, 2016

    I like that idea, Gonzalo! Might have to queue that up right behind the email courses product I’m working on now. 🙂

Etienne Juneau - December 1, 2017

Well, that says it all. Thanks Josh!

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